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Safety issues in coalmines
in the Second World War

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Sources of danger in coal mines

Mines have always been hazardous environments and the period while I was a Bevin Boy during and after the Second World War was no exception.

There were safeguards to cover the possibility of fire, flood, explosion and roof collapse, and numerous regulations were in place from the various Coal Mines Acts and other documents on work in the mines. These were particularly concerned with ventilation, use of explosives, use of electricity within the mine, first aid provision and health and safety.

Ventilation was of prime importance to ensure good working conditions with no build-up of noxious or inflammable gases. Air circulation was achieved by use of fans from the downshaft through all main roads and workings and back up the upshaft. Normally all roads had two exits but where new headings (spurs) were being created, this was not the case. So there were limitations on the numbers of workers in headings.

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The check on which miners were still underground

A miner's disk. Photographed at a show in poor light. Do you have a better photo?

All miners were issued with a metal disk with an engraved number, known as the Lamp Number. Mine was 73. Every miner exchanged his numbered disk for a safety lamp at the start of his shift. The numbered disk remained on its hook until it was exchanged for the lamp at the end of the shift. The disks on the hooks thus represented all the workers who were still underground.

Miner's safety lamp

Miner's safety lamp.

The holes in the metal mesh are too small for flames to pass through and so reduce the danger of explosions in the presence of flammable gases. The flame changes colour to alert miners to the presence of hazardous gas. The patterns in the metal mesh in the photo are due to optical interference between the two sides of the mesh which is actually plain.

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My own bad experience

I had one very unpleasant experience. The previous shift hadn't been able to clear all their working, and I was told to go with one other person to load tubs in a new heading. Headings have only one exit. While loading the tubs there was a fall which blocked this exit.

We knew that there was nothing for it but to sit it out and wait to be dug out, but while we were waiting the roof continued creaking. This made us acutely aware of the half mile of rock above us which we feared might not stay in place.

Fortunately we were not short of air and other miners had heard the fall. So we only had to wait a few hours for them to dig us out.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster

Page contributed by Peter Dickens

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